The world’s first ‘serial killer’ penguins have been found in Germany after the infertile pair went on a rampage killing parents and chicks after zookeepers took their own rotten egg away.
The drama, which according to zookeepers is without precedent, took place at Dresden zoo in the capital of the eastern German state of Saxony, where staff were at first delighted to learn that three Penguin couples were sitting on eggs, with the hope of baby penguins in the near future.
In the end, two of the Humboldt Penguin pairs successfully hatched two eggs each, and began to raise the four chicks.
But the egg of the third pair was infertile, and when it became clear that the egg had gone off, the nest and the egg were removed.
But the decision infuriated the two penguins, and when the keepers had left, they attacked another pair of older penguins who had also successfully hatched two chicks, driving them away from their nest and killing the two baby penguins.
Both of the chicks had been until that point developing well, with one weighing 300 grams and the other weighing 500 grams.
The attack happened on 21st May and keepers believed that things had calmed down, but four days later the two penguins attacked the other parents of the two remaining chicks. The zoo did not comment on why they had decided to leave the killer penguins with the remaining parents.
This time the two penguin parents, both older birds, tried to defend the young, and died apparently from shock at the brutal attack by fellow penguins.
Their sacrifice however kept the killer penguins away from the young long enough for keepers to intervene, and both babies, which are now orphans, have been rescued.
But the tragedy means they will now have to be raised by hand. Currently weighing just over a kilogramme each, they are expected to survive and are already eating fish.
Zoo staff were shocked, with zoo boss Karl Heinz Ukena defending the decision to remove the egg from the killer penguins at the time, saying: “The fertilisation of the egg had not worked. Only a long time after the egg should have hatched did we finally decide to move it, because it had clearly gone off and posed a health risk for the penguins.”
He added that the killing of the other penguins in the colony by the infertile pair had been a complete shock. He said: “Staff who have had decades of experience in dealing with penguins are absolutely shocked because they have never heard of anything like this taking place. In addition, in the wild there is nothing recorded that indicate penguins behave in this manner.”
They said that in future, eggs that fail to hatch would not be confiscated, and instead would either be left for longer or replaced with an artificial egg of the same size and colour.
The loss is a double tragedy because Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) are a threatened species which is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, due to loss of habitat and climate change, with only around 32,000 adults left in the world.
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